First Scrimmage in the Books

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina completed its first scrimmage of training camp around 11:25 a.m. on Saturday, mere moments before a thunderstorm delivered a deluge of rain onto the Kenan Stadium field.

Head coach Butch Davis informed the media on Friday afternoon that the scrimmage was expected to include 60 scripted live speed plays for the offense and defense and another 15-20 designated special teams situations. The inclement weather narrowed those goals on Saturday morning, as the first, second and third teams each received 12 snaps against their counterparts.

Stats were not provided to the media, but it's important to note what Davis means when he talks about a "scripted" scrimmage. Down and distance is irrelevant, as the players from both sides know what the calls are before taking the field, which is intended to cut down on mental mistakes. Saturday wasn't about converting a 3rd-and-7 or making a goal line stand – it was about getting accustomed to Kenan Stadium and ratcheting up the intensity level.

"We just ran a lot of simple stuff – our Cover-2 looks, our Cover-3 looks," junior cornerback Kendric Burney said. "Today was pretty much just a way to get a feel of getting back into the fundamentals and going back out there hitting. Coverages like that put a lot of people in the box, so there's a lot of physicality… It was just something to get you back in the mode of being real physical and just going up there and bumping and running a little bit."

Junior running back Ryan Houston provided a similar response, albeit from the other side of the line of scrimmage, saying, "We concentrated basically on getting the young guys in and getting them rolling. We didn't really put anything complicated into the offense today. We just played ‘base' so that we could fit our blocks and keep moving forward with that."

Burney indicated that of the 12 snaps that paired the first-team defense and the first-team offense together, defensive coordinator Everett Withers's unit practiced three different coverages. But for players like Burney and Houston who have been in UNC's program for three years now, it's almost impossible to disguise sets and schemes.

"Greg Little and I were actually talking on the sidelines, and he was telling me about what coverages we were running and I was telling him what kind of routes they were going to run against us," Burney said. "It's that time of training camp where you've been hitting your teammates for the last two weeks, so we're ready to get past that and go hit somebody else."

As for the competition between the probable starters of the season opener against The Citadel on Sept. 5, Burney called the scrimmage a "battle."

"It kind of went wishy-washy," Burney said. "It was a scripted-type situation, so they got us on one or two plays, but for the most part, I think we did a fairly decent job. We've got to get in the film room and get some things corrected, but I was happy with the way the defense played today."

Houston, who has trimmed down to 240 pounds from last season's playing weight of 248, believes that the offense continues to make the necessary progression that will be required to enter September clicking on all cylinders.

"I feel like we're getting better every day, but I feel like we still have a lot to learn before the first game," Houston said. "We've got to put in all of the running plays and we've got to fit our blocks. It's more of a teaching thing right now, because we've got two whole weeks to get ready for The Citadel."

Shaun Draughn and Houston each took six of the first-team's 12 snaps at running back, with Jamal Womble working exclusively with the 2's. Freshmen A.J. Blue and Hunter Furr shared snaps with the third-team offense on Saturday.

As for Houston, he's determined to shed his label as a pure short-yardage back this season.

"I'm going to increase my role this year," Houston said. "I'm going to get the short-yardage downs, but I want to get in there on second down just to throw the defenses off. So that every time I get in there, they won't say, ‘Okay, let's cram it up,' because that will hurt our offense. Every time No. 32 gets in, they won't know if we're going to run a dive or a play-action fake."

With so much youth and inexperience in the back-end of North Carolina's three-deep, the Tar Heel coaching staff has focused a good portion of their efforts this August on building depth and giving those new faces plenty of opportunities to earn playing time this season.

"They're getting better every day," Burney said. "We're young in the 2's and 3's, and we brought a lot of freshmen in. So those guys getting thrown right into the fire it's going to take them a little longer to learn the system, but they're definitely getting the system down and I'm looking forward to seeing how they can contribute over the next two weeks."

North Carolina returns to practice on Monday afternoon for its last session before classes begin on Tuesday.


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